9 آبان 1391

a letter from prisoner journalist

Love Transition from Evin prison to rajaeeshahr jail

30 October 2012

jila baniyaghoob

Translated by: Banooye Sabz

My dearest Bahman

It has been two months since I last saw you; two months since that last visit at Rajai Shahr prison when I looked at you from behind those iron bars and double pane windows.

I forgot to tell you how hesitant and skeptical I was about attending that last visitation. I had even planned to turn myself in at Evin prison a few days earlier in order to avoid the arrival of Thursday, the visitation day at Rajai Shahr. Perhaps as you read this letter you may find what I just wrote surprising, so let me explain why that farewell visitation was so difficult for me. I knew then that we would have to wait at least another year to see each other. Can you believe that? An entire year!

I was afraid that I would not have the courage to say goodbye for an entire year. I was afraid that I would break down and cry, tears rolling down my face, and that that image would haunt you for an entire year. In the end I overcame my fear and forced myself to come to see you.

The prosecutor’s office and prison officials refused to allow even a woman who was about to go to prison the right to see her incarcerated husband, face to face, one last time. There was a time when this type of restriction would shock me, but these days nothing surprises me anymore. Does it surprise you?

That visit also took place from behind the double-glass, opaque windows and iron bars at Rajai Shahr prison. Like so many other of our visitations, you were wearing your green T-Shirt. The color green suites you. You would always say: “Jila, since I know you really like the color green, I’ll wear this T-shirt on visitation days.”

We had only twenty minutes and we were both speaking very quickly as if to fit all that needed to be said in the next 20 months into the twenty minutes that lay ahead of us. And it was so difficult.

Having had more experience of life in prison, you kept giving me advice on what to do in order to make my upcoming prison sentence more bearable. You spoke of the need to exercise, read and study and get some fresh air every day. You even recommended a few books you thought I should read; books that were, as you put it, particularly enjoyable in prison.

I kept saying: “Bahman don’t worry so much about me and this one year I will be spending behind bars, for this too shall pass.” And you said, “what matters is that it should pass well.”

God only knows how nervous I was on that day; nervous that one of us would break down and cry, our tears rolling down our faces. The twenty minutes went by and neither of us cried. In the end, I placed my hand on those damned, double pane windows and you placed yours on the other side, a gesture that rather than an embrace or a kiss was supposed to demonstrated the depth of our feelings for each other.

Our visitation time came to an end. You stood up and walked away and as I watched you walking away from me from behind those windows and iron bars, reassured that you could no longer see me, I finally let loose, quietly sobbing, tears rolling down my face. I don’t know how you must have felt during those moments when you were walking away from me…

On that first day at Evin prison while passing by the general ward 350 on my way to the women’s ward, I was filled with a sense of joy. It was the place you had spent three years of your life. I had always wanted to see it at least once in my life, even if from afar. Now I live next to the same ward where you were being held until a few months ago. As you know, the women’s ward is right next to ward 350 where male political prisoners are detained. At times we hear the voices of your former cell mates from the other side of the high wall. Each time I am reminded of the letter you wrote to me in which you talked about hearing the voices of the female prisoners and how you envisioned me amongst them, knowing that soon I would be one of them too- and now I am here but you are no longer on the other side of this wall.

Many of the images, walls and incidents here are all familiar to me. They are familiar because in the past three years you repeatedly wrote about them to me in your letters or described them to me during those prison visits from behind a telephone booth. Today I am personally experiencing your descriptions. You had even told me about the moon in the skies above Evin prison. Last night I was sitting in the ward when Shabnam Madadzadeh cried out “Come out everyone and see how beautiful the moon is tonight.”

It was at that moment that I remembered how you and your friends would sit in the yard at Evin’s ward 350 staring at the moon. I followed Shabnam to the small area designated for fresh air at the women’s ward and I stared at the moon, that at times looked as though it was being embraced by grey clouds, but at other times would become bright and clear, pushing away all clouds.

“I have loved the moon since I was a little girl,” Shabnam said. “You see, the moon is so beautiful. When I was at Rajai Shahr prison I wasn’t able to see the moon. I remember how much I missed it, then suddenly one day from between several doors and iron bars I saw a glimpse of the moon. It was such a pleasant feeling.”

I am trying to write a short account of my days here at Evin so you can see that just as you had said, my days here are actually not that bad. Our days are calm. Most people are involved in rigorous study programs, sports, crafts, or learning a foreign language.

Most prisoners are in good spirits. Their high spirits energize me. I am filled with hope when I see Bahareh Hedayat’s energy, vitality and determination despite her heavy prison sentence. I am energized by the presence of women such as Mahvash Shahryari and Fariba Kamal-Abadi who are both serving 20 year sentences, but are so calm and patient that you would not believe they have such heavy sentences and have been denied furlough for several years. I am motivated by the presence of Nasrin Sotoudeh who has spent almost three years in prison without a day of furlough. As relative newcomers to Evin, Shiva, Mahsa and I have no right to be impatient or lack vitality or energy. We too read like they do. We also exercise and remain patient behind bars.

The women’s ward at Evin currently houses 33 political prisoners. Faezeh Hashemi, Nazanin Deihimi and Behnaz Zaker are the most recent newcomers. They brought Faezeh over at around 12:30am. At 12 midnight the lights are turned off. We were all in bed, either asleep or reading. The transfer of a new prisoner so late into the night is not an ordinary event, for most prisoners are transferred to the general ward during business hours. When Faezeh arrived we all got out of our beds. Everyone was wondering what had happened and why Hashemi Rafsanjani’s daughter would be transferred to Evin at this time of the night. Faezeh described with great excitement how she had been arrested and taken to Evin. Nazanin Deyhimi was brought over at around 3pm. She is the daughter of the famous writer and translator, Khashayar Deyhimi.

There is little difference between day and night here. As such the arrival of a new prisoner is considered an important event, leading to much commotion inside the ward. Those who arrive provide a glimpse of life outside prison. The veteran prisoners first ask the newcomers to talk about the reasons behind their arrest, and then there often questions such as, “so what else is new? How is everything out there? Tell me about the latest developments and analyses.”

We are 33 imprisoned women with a variety of opinions and at times opposing points of view. Prisoners from the Green movement, Baha’is, the Mojahedin Khalgh, newly converted Christians, etc.

My dearest Bahman one of the things I find most attractive about this prison is that individuals with a variety of backgrounds and different, even opposite, points of view coexist peacefully. We have a deep sense of gratification when we sit together, eat, talk, debate and converse. Every day that I experience this peaceful lifestyle, the more I wish that some day we could witness such a pattern across our society, living together with different political and religious beliefs, without trying to eliminate each other, or become enemies as a result of our differences of opinion, religion or political ideologies.

If such coexistence is possible in prison, why should it not be possible across the Iranian society? I am hopeful that some day we will witness such a society in Iran. That good day will come.

I miss you and love you more than ever.

Jila Baniyaghoub

The Women’s Ward at Evin Prison

P.S. I don’t mean to imply that we never run into problems living together here at Evin. It goes without saying that we too experience our share of disagreements and disputes. What is important however, is that they are ultimately resolved through discussion and dialogue.

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